• A giant excavator loads a mining truck at the Fortescue Solomon iron ore mine located in the Sheila Valley, around 400 km south of Port Hedland. (REUTERS/David Gray)Source: REUTERS/David Gray
Wintawari Guruma Aboriginal Corporation chairman requests WA government prosecute Fortescue after the mining giant clears land at Weelamurra Creek in breach of conditions.
24 Feb 2021 - 11:52 PM  UPDATED 24 Feb 2021 - 11:53 PM

Australia’s Fortescue Metals Group has apologised to an Aboriginal group for clearing land on a heritage site while flouting a government condition for representatives of the community to be present when the damage took place.

It is the week’s second such incident, despite pressure on Australian iron ore miners to show they have improved practices to manage important sites after Rio Tinto destroyed two sacred rock shelters for a mine expansion last May.

Fortescue had state government permission to clear the land in the Weelamurra Creek area registered as sacred to the Wintawari Guruma people, on condition that community Elders were present to perform salvage and cultural rites.

But an administrative error led to land clearing works earlier than scheduled on February 1 in the absence of the representatives.

In a statement, the Wintawari Guruma Aboriginal Corporation (WGAC) said: “WGAC members are disappointed by FMG’s actions, particularly after investing so much time negotiating an outcome with them that included elders being present during the destruction.

It added: “WGAC is concerned by yet another example of poor conduct by a mining company and the apparent disregard for Aboriginal cultural heritage.”

WGAC chairman Glenn Camille requested that the Western Australia government prosecute Fortescue, in a letter to Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Ben Wyatt.

“We sincerely hope that you and the next Minister for Aboriginal Affairs decide to send a message to the mining industry about the importance of protecting our Indigenous heritage.”

In a statement, Mr Wyatt said that he had been advised that an alleged breach was under official investigation.

“The matter is being treated very seriously and with utmost priority by the Department. I trust that the investigation will be managed expeditiously and concluded swiftly.”

Fortescue Chief Executive Elizabeth Gaines said in a statement that she had spoken to Mr Camille regarding the incident to personally express her regret and apologise on behalf of FMG.

“We have carried out a full investigation into the matter which has shown that this unfortunately occurred as a result of an administrative error...We have paused all clearing works at this site as we work with WGAC on the matter,” said the statement.

Ms Gaines did not provide detail on the nature of the administrative error.

Earlier this week, BHP Group said it was investigating how a rock fall damaged a registered site at its South Flank operations that was not part of active mining operations.

Last year’s Rio Tinto destruction cost its chief executive and two senior leaders their jobs, and sparked a parliamentary inquiry.

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